Evaluating the use of gifts and manifestations of the Spirit
T. J. de
Ruiter, Pentecostal Pastor and Teacher in The Netherlands
We find most of the apostolic instructions about the use of spiritual gifts in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. On the basis of what Paul wrote we can conclude that there were a number of problems in connection with the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. It may sound strange to some, but sad to say, the use of spirituals gifts and manifestations can provide problems.
The church of Corinth had grown and there was a lot of activity. People evidently used with enthusiasm the special gifts, which they had received from the Holy Spirit. Many wonderful things happened. Sick people were healed in miraculous ways and others spoke in strange, unknown languages. There were those who were able to interpret those utterances, that were otherwise not understood, some had prophetic gifts and others did miracles There was much activity, but not every activity had an edifying influence in the church and some caused confusion.
DEALING WITH PROBLEMS IN THE CHURCH OF CORINTH
There were several problems arisen in connection with the use of the gifts. One problem was that some people started to brag about their gifts and placed themselves above others. This behaviour caused jealousy between the members, (1 Corinthians 12: 20-21). There was an unpleasant atmosphere in the church. Paul received a letter in which these problems were expressed to him. We find his reaction in the chapters 12, 13 and 14 of this epistle.
Another problem was that some people used the gifts primarily for their own purposes and spiritual benefit. Paul made clear that in church meetings gifts had to be used primarily for the collective edification and not only for that of the individual, who exercised the gift. Today we would say: “Don’t go only for your own interest, excitement and blessing to the meeting.” Paul underlined that believers had to keep their eyes on the edification on the whole assembly. Mature believers don’t pray in the meeting: “Lord, give me more,” but, “Lord, give us more.” The heart’s desire in the meeting should be: "Lord, how can I be of benefit to my fellowbelievers in this meeting?" The result of this attitude is going to be that others, who cannot open themselves so quickly and easily to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord, will eventually be drawn into more of His Presence and after some time hopefully every one comes in the flow of spiritual workings.
A third problem was that of disorderly behaviour in connection with the exercise of the gifts in church. Paul states that there should be order in the meetings, (1 Corinthians 14:40). Paul was saying that not too many people should speak in tongues and prophesy at the same time, (1 Corinthians 14, 17-33). If someone suddenly powerfully inspired, was of the opinion that he at once should have the opportunity to speak and thought that he had to interrupt another one, Paul’s answer is: "Wait, until a proper moment. The basic lesson is clear: Inspiration of the Spirit may come at any moment, but it remains our responsibility how and when we share it with other people. This is a principle of order in human affairs, also to be respected in Church, but Christians seem to forget this so easily.
Indeed, there were real problems in Corinth in connection with the use of the charismata, the spiritual gifts. There was confusion sown and disorder had developed. Much of the blessing in using them was taken away and the church was damaged. Paul was trying to make the necessary corrections in the church he loved so dearly.
It is significant that we have between chapters 12 and 14 the teaching about the true nature of Godly love, with its corresponding behaviour. Paul says with real apostolic authority that if the love of Christ is not the real motive in exercising the gifts, they are like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. About the person, who used the gifts and manifested his workings without love, he said that such a person was nothing and that all spiritual workings profited him nothing. This was, I think a serious warning to all, who used spiritual gifts and were lovers of the manifestations of the Spirit in the church of Corinth. Paul’s teaching should bring them to selfexamination and selfdiscipline.
It seems to me that the instructions and warnings of Paul are relevant to us, charismatic, Pentecostal and full-gospel believers. In the present enthusiasm for manifestations, workings and gifts of the Holy Spirit, carnal motives can again very easily play a disturbing and confusing roll. Human nature has not changed since the early days of Christianity. We observe widely the same problems and negative symptoms as Paul did in the church of Corinth. Some people display a superior attitude in and over churches, because they think to have more important gifts than others. Others become more egoistically and only go for their own interest and excitement in services. If they have a good time under the power of the Spirit they feel okay; the edification of others is not their concern. There is an increasing awareness that many prophecies - it is mostly felt on the personal level - create problems in lives of people. Some have, when they were obeyed, led people straight into disaster. Do we see these problems or do we close our eyes for them? I could go on and on, but it is high time to sit down, think and pray: "Lord, what is happening and what are we doing?"
EVALUATION OF GIFTS AND MANIFESTATIONS
As seen above, Paul raised the issue of judging prophetic utterances in 1 Corinthians 14:29. I have on the foundation of this one and other Scriptures always difficulty with those, who teach that we have to accept prophecies without evaluating them, to find out whether they are or are not a word from God. When a prophet feels offended or even becomes angry when I prefer to take time to judge his prophetic word, he exalts himself above apostolic teaching, shows little humility and his reaction is unworthy, not spiritual. This makes one more hesitant to obey such a prophetic utterance. This same principle applies also to visions and dreams. How strange it may sound for some, but with this last category of mystical experiences, dreams and visions, we must be extra careful and cautious, because they are often of a symbolic nature and the interpretation can be very difficult and the application could serve various purposes. The Holy Spirit may use in dreams and visions subconscious contents in our spirit, but dreams could also be products of our own subconscious processes, which still remain at large a mystery to scientists. I am not saying that dreams cannot come from God, of course they can. To be sure about the meaning of such experiences other believers could help to determine their source and meaning. Oftentimes dreams do express what one consciously or unconsciously, wishes or wants. The wise lesson seems to be clear: Visions and dreams of believers, even of those who claim to be filled with the Spirit, have to be judged on the basis of the instructions and principles as we find in the Bible, the only book we have with completely reliable, divinely inspired wisdom.
Now it is time to issue a grave warning. Some teachers are heard to be saying that Christians should not use their minds when they open themselves for the Spirit. There may be some truth in it, but when this advice is thoughtlessly followed in every instance, it may lead us in deception.
I want to be very clear here: It is true that when we take a step in faith, one’s intelligence is overruled? An example: Walking on water, is not worked out and realised by an intelligent consideration. Indeed, faith is a sure conviction, a trust in Gods power, that works often on a level above our scope of understanding. Opening our heart for the Spirit is a conscious choice and is per definition an intelligent act. What follows may be above our control, as the Spirit inspires and empowers. But, though the workings of the Spirit in gifts and manifestations are above our understanding, it does not mean that we should not evaluate what happened or is happening under the Spirit’s power. We should assess the workings and their results and make, if necessary, corrections. What I am saying is this: We should examine all spiritual, mystical or ecstatic experiences as to their value in human experience and behaviour. In this process is the Bible our completely reliable divinely inspired basic guide, (2 Tim. 3:16,17, 2 Peter 1:20,21).
I think that it is important that we not only open our hearts for the Spirit of the Lord, but also keep a sound mind and sufficient self-control, (2 Timothy 1:7). In this way we stay spiritually alert and give account to ourselves, others and above all, to God, of what is happening in the midst of the noise, the tumult, the excitement and ecstasy, which characterize some movements and meetings. We should indeed regularly take time to evaluate not only the workings and manifestations that we ascribe to the Spirit in our meetings, but we should also look carefully to the interpretation and appreciation of them. This evaluation procedure should also be applied in sessions where people minister to each other. Responsible leaders should sit down with workers and evaluate what was said and was happening. I dare to say that much could be learned from such sessions that would contribute to the increase of spiritual effectiveness and the edification of the individual believer and the whole church.
It is my conviction that we must take heed to Scriptural teachings and corrections, if we want to stay and go forward in the move of the Spirit of God in these days. May I point out that the Spirit is not only quenched by those who oppose the gifts and manifestations, but also - and perhaps more subtly - by carnality and unwise behaviour of those, who open themselves to Him.
We are grateful for the present revival of spiritual gifts and manifestations. This revival was and is necessary for Christianity, which was in danger of becoming a very boring and dead, formalistic religion. But the Spirit has brought new life. We are grateful to God that believers everywhere receive an asset to their life and ministry in the new possibilities given to them by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It remains however, our responsibility how we make use of the gifts and handle the manifestations. It is possible as I pointed out above, to use the gifts and powers of the Spirit - consciously or unconsciously - in a wrong and even destructive way. The Holy Scriptures exhort us to evaluate our motives, thinking and actions. Special attention must be given to manifestations of the human ego for that can be so bigheaded and self-centred. Let us take heed to the admonition of Paul in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” If we take this as a norm for behaviour also in using and enjoying the gifts and workings of the Spirit, we have a chance to stay right on track with what God is trying to do in our day and age.
revised July 2011
Leusden, The Netherlands